Swiss baked goods you win as prizes, ranked.

Presentation1

Photos, left to right: my own; Einsiedeln-tourismus.chwikipedia.

This weekend I went to Rothenthurm for a 22.5k skate loppet. Rothenthurm is quite close to Zurich and probably one of the lowest-elevation places you’ll ever race in Switzerland. The snow was not fantastic – it’s basically a moor or fen of some sort, so there’s a lot of water bubbling up. This turned into yellowish ice which was in some parts covered in a thin dusting of snow, and in others not. In a few of the drier spots there was grass poking through, or gravel dragged up by the groomer.

The ice did make it fast though – the race was over before I knew it, which was very okay!

I saw a lot of crashes in this race which were caused by peoples’ skis slipping out from under them on the ice as they pushed off one leg. It happens so fast and all of a sudden you’re on the ground. I narrowly avoided this fate twice, and the effort to keep my legs under me made me really sore the next day. At one point a spectator cheered as I managed to pull myself back together after a about six teetering strides in a row. Thanks for the support, random Swiss person! It actually means a lot! My mere 15 days on snow this year showed.

I was feeling pretty flat, but it was fun to race in a group of four women all fighting for third place. It was the first time all year that I’ve actually skied with other women in a race! Of course there were lots of men skiing with us too (and sometimes cutting in between us), but the competition is a lot of fun when you are skiing with the people you are competing directly against. I think it’s safe to say that the four of us all have very different backgrounds – one was a very talented mountain biker whose team ski races in winter for cross-training, another was a woman in a Madshus suit who apparently works on a beef farm, I’m a full-time student – but we were fighting hard out there.

In the end I wasn’t able to hit the podium for a variety of reasons. I finished fourth, 2.8 seconds out of third after 22.5 k. Argh! This was a little frustrating. Fuel for the fire next week I guess. But I won some prize money anyway, for just the fifth time ever in my career. Three of those times have been in Europe after I stopped training full-time – in France, Sweden, and Switzerland. I have to say racing is a lot more lucrative in Europe even if you’re a fairly mediocre runner or skier. It wasn’t a lot, but it was nice to be able to cover my race entry and train ticket.

Besides the cash prize, I also was given a Birnenweggen, a sweet bread from Kanton Schwyz where Rothenthurm. It came in a box and I wasn’t sure what it was until I opened it – was it food? electronics? something else? – but it turned out to be bread stuffed with pureed, spiced pear paste. Yum!

Not every baked good in Switzerland is so wonderful to win. Anyone who has done the Engadin Skimarathon has probably seen, won, or tasted a Nusstorte. After last year’s race, Holly Brooks had won one and left it at my house because she had way too much stuff to transport back to Alaska. I brought it to a dinner party at my friend Greg’s house. It was like I had arrived carrying an ugly, slimy, wart-covered frog. Actually, we were all biologists, so that would have been better. The nusstorte did not go fast.

(Holly, don’t take this personally, I was genuinely excited about it until I tried it… good thing you didn’t let it take up luggage space only to realize you had brought the worst possible souvenir from Switzerland!)

More recently, Greg and I were trying to describe Nusstorte to two American friends. It’s like a pie with two really thick crusts, stuffed with this sort of dry nut mixture. It’s so dry. “So it’s like pecan pie without the good part?” They asked. Yes! Yes! Exactly.

I’ve actually had good nusstorte, made by my friend Flurina. Maybe she has a secret. I could imagine it being better with ice cream on top. But it’s really not my favorite.

In the middle of the spectrum lie the traditional cookies from Einseideln, given in prizes at the Einsiedler Skimarathon (also close to Zurich and actually even lower elevation, but with more interesting trails than Rothenthurm and lacking that pesky water/ice problem). Einsiedler Schafböcke, as they are called, are white sort of fluffy cookies. They are delicately flavored with honey and a little bit of cinnamon and cloves. They probably won’t knock your socks off, but that’s because these days we don’t seem to be impressed by anything without pounds of sugar and huge, bold flavors. They are good.

Moral of the story: if you have a sweet tooth, enter the Rothenthurm race rather than the Engadin. First of all, you’re unlikely to bag a top-six finish in the Engadin Skimarathon, hate to break it to you (well, I’m certainly not… I guess I don’t know who is reading this). But if you can get there in a smaller Swiss Loppet, the birnenweggen is tasty and a very worthy reward for your hours of hard training.

Should you wish to try any of these Swiss specialties, you can order most online, with shipping to some places outside the country:

Birnenweggen (the Lucerne version, but I couldn’t find the Rothenthurmer Birnenweggen online)

Einsiedler Schafböcke

Bündner Nusstorte from Davos

Ladies get no respect.

Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it: we wished for snow, and then it snowed during the race which made things a lot slower and more grueling.... Also, pro tip, when it's obviously going to be a snowstorm, remember your glasses or visor!

Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it: the snow we so desperately needed came during the race, making things a lot slower and more grueling…. Also, pro tip, when it’s obviously going to be a snowstorm, remember your glasses or visor, dummy! It gets hard to see! (Photo: AlphaFoto)

This weekend my race was in Lenzerheide. All in all it was a good experience – we raced four loops around the Tour de Ski trails, with one extension and the steepest ‘A’ climb cut out.

That turned out to be a good thing, because the first rough part of the race is that it was in the middle of a snowstorm. I can’t complain too much because we have been wishing and begging for snow – the race was actually supposed to be a point-to-point but there wasn’t enough cover, hence the loops of the World Cup course – but it slowed things down considerably. Whereas the weekend before I had felt like I was flying, this weekend not so much. In the slow conditions I guarantee I would have been single-sticking up that ‘A’ climb by the fourth go-round. At least on the long grinding climb out of the stadium, which lasts for 2/3 of a kilometer, I felt like I was moving.

I struggled with the start, where skiers were packed shoulder-to-shoulder and then trying to skate all over each other’s skis, and immediately lost a lot of ground (though luckily no poles or baskets!). The few women were scattered throughout this pack and the others, having done these races before, seem to have figured out something about how to deal with the start that I have just totally missed. I caught and passed one woman after five kilometers and wanted to shout as I went by, “how did you manage that!?”

Overall it was a fun racing experience. Crossing the finish line and feeling like you have given it your all, no matter how fast or slow that ended up being, is such a great feeling. Going home feeling like you have really worked yourself over and earned your dinner is I guess what keeps us endurance junkies going.

Another week, another "I finally made it to the finish line". (Photo: AlphaFoto)

Another week, another “I finally made it to the finish line!” wave of relief. This week it was also “This means I get to put on warm, dry clothes now! Do I have to cool down?” (Photo: AlphaFoto)

After the race though, I had a bit of a sexist experience. I was hanging out with Jackson Bloch and Tyler DeAngelis, the gentlemen from 477 Kilometers who had come for the chance to race at a World Cup venue. We enjoyed some phenomenal cake at the post-race lunch and laughed our way through the awards ceremony which was, of course, conducted all in Swiss German.

The organizers called up the women’s podium: Sereina Boner had won by five minutes and, according to the timing, outsprinted the seventh-place man at the line. Go Sereina! Fellow Olympian Bettina Gruber was second, and Claudia Schmid third. The emcee did nice little interviews with each of them after handing out the awards.

Then it was time for the men’s prize ceremony. Remo Fischer had beaten Valerio Leccardi by a minute; as in the women’s race, both were Olympians. Leccardi outsprinted two others to earn second.

But… after calling up the third-place guy, the organizer just kept going. Where the women’s ceremony had featured the top three, the men’s featured the top eight.

What!? We looked at each other like, hmm, that definitely doesn’t seem right.

It’s true that many fewer women entered the race: 42 compared to 285. That is something I see every weekend and it always makes me sad.

And it’s true, full disclosure, that if they had called up eight women I would have been up there. But as I think you will see, this is definitely not why I’m mad.

Even if the women’s field is so much less deep, there is such an incredibly obvious value judgement going on when more men are recognized as prize-worthy than women.

Switzerland is a country which has already shown me all I need to know about its attitude towards women’s sports. There are many fewer female athletes at almost any co-ed sport event.

“Practising a sport in a voluntary club does not seem to be a very popular approach with women, particularly older women,” a 2011 report by the Council of Europe stated. “In Switzerland, many more men are members of clubs than women (30.6% compared to 18.9%)…. women account for only 36% of trainers and managers. This proportion decreases the higher up the sports hierarchy one goes, reaching 19% in elite sports. It is very likely that this situation has an impact on the development of women’s sport although we do not yet have any precise data on this link. On the one hand, the under-representation of women in sport’s managing bodies may mean that it is considered less necessary to implement policies designed specifically to increase women’s and girls’ involvement in sport (Koca & al., 2010). Secondly, the woman trainer represents a model with which many girls identify when they take up organised sports such as football, basketball or rugby. As a result, the over-representation of men among trainers may prevent girls from starting such activities.”

The women’s soccer team is called the Nati-Girls, which seems insulting to full-grown, elite, full-time athletes like Fabienne Humm who scored a hat-trick in just five minutes against Ecuador in this summer’s World Cup, setting a new record.

As in many places, professional athletes who are women get paid much less than their male counterparts. Their teams get less attention from the media and sponsors.

This lack of female participation or recognition extends outward from the playing field. As of 2011, although there were more and more female journalists in Switzerland, not a single newspaper had a woman running its sports section, for example.

This is not to say that there are no female athletes. Of course there are. Boner won the Ski Classics series three different years; Switzerland’s alpine skiers are phenomenal; the ice hockey team won bronze in Sochi and the curling team won 2015 World Championships; Nicola Spirig won triathlon gold in London 2012. That’s just to name a few, and there are obviously many more. These women are adored and admired by their fans.

But there’s no denying that women’s sports are generally underdeveloped and underemphasized in the country.

So when you go to a weekend race and twice as many men get recognized at the prize ceremony as women, what message does that send? Does it send a message that people are trying to fix the problem?

Not really.

That’s all.

Having said all that and complained, I have to say thank you to the men I ski with in these races - they are great. They step on my poles no more than they would step on a dude's poles, and they are nice. On the last time up the long hill I pushed really hard and passed a long train of guys. On the long downhill into the stadium, most of them went flying past me, their bank- and insurance-funded wax jobs being a bit speedier than my grand-student-salary-funded HF6. But when we crossed the line, one turned around and told me, 'wow, that was a good push' (loose translation of the Swiss German...). (Photo: AlphaFoto)

Having said all that and complained, I have to say thank you to the men I ski with in these races – they are great. They step on my poles no more than they would step on a dude’s poles, and they are nice. On the last time up the long hill I pushed really hard and passed a long train of guys. On the long downhill into the stadium, most of them went flying past me, their bank- and insurance-funded wax jobs being a bit speedier than my grand-student-salary-funded HF6. But when we crossed the line, one turned around and told me, ‘wow, that was a good push’ (loose translation of the Swiss German…). (Photo: AlphaFoto)

Campra Trip: Attraverso & “College Skiing” in Switzerland

The crew after the University Games classic race. Note that only three of us are wearing medals - only three of us were still students! (Photo: Swiss Academic Ski Club / Facebook)

The crew after the University Games classic race. Note that only three of us are wearing medals – only three of us were still students! (Photo: Swiss Academic Ski Club / Facebook)

This weekend I went to Campra, in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland (Ticino). It was a double deal: a classic 5 k for the Swiss University Games on Saturday, and Campra’s trademark ski marathon, the Attraverso, on Sunday.

The first race gave me a chance to see what university skiing is like in Switzerland. Coming from the EISA circuit in the United States, it was quite a difference.

And the second race is part of the Swiss Loppet series, a weekly set of mostly 21-25 k races (with a few 42 k’ers) around the country which I plan to participate in this winter.

It turns out that Campra is nearly impossible to get to without a car (if you want to go there by public transport, email them at info@campra.ch and they might be able to work something out). So luckily I was able to tag along with the Swiss Academic Ski Club folks, as I have for a few training camps so far this summer, like my trip to the Jura.

We drove from outside Zurich around the end of Lake Lucerne and into Canton Uri where we could start to see really big mountains. Then we went through the Gotthard Tunnel, at 16.9 kilometers the fourth-longest road tunnel in the world. Opened in 1980, it allowed people to get to Ticino (and Italy) far more quickly instead of going over the Gotthard Pass, the usual route since 13th century. The pass looks gorgeous, by the way. I’ve never been. Maybe I’ll take my road bike there next summer…

By the time we got to Ticino it was raining and dark. There’s a restaurant/hotel right at the tracks, so we could park the van and not move it all weekend – score! We walked into the restaurant, passing a bunch of Swiss guys playing on the outdoor hockey rink on our way in. It was like going back in time as we walked past photos of ski podiums from the 1980’s and 90’s. The décor had not been updated much either. It was fantastic.

Photos from another era in the Campra restaurant's entryway.

Photos from another era in the Campra restaurant’s entryway. Fantastic hair, ladies.

This photo, from 2012 National Championships, was perhaps the most recent one I could find.

This photo, from 2012 National Championships, was I think the most recent one I could find.

After a dinner of gnocchi we went to bed. It was cold. And I could hear the rain outside.

The next morning it was still raining/snowing, so even though we weren’t racing until 2:30 p.m. we decided to head out to see the trails (only 4 k or so were open because of snow challenges) and test some wax. It was about zero degrees (32 °F), just peachy.

Testing wax? It didn’t go so well. We all shied away from klister, and in the beginning I thought my VR65 was pretty okay. Then we went up the one big hill on the course and it started clumping like crazy. So were everyone else’s skis – it was snowing, after all.

We ate lunch (lasagna, perfect for pre-race am I right? I don’t know how the Italians do it) and watched as shifting snow and rain continued to fall outside. What would the wax be?

It was me and four guys, only two of whom were still students, the other two being alumni. So at this point I knew that all I had to do to “win” the U-Games classic race was finish. I decided to just scrape some wax off my test skis and re-test them, and not worry about the race skis I had prepared. Save those for another time.

It turned out that three of the guys had zeroes (or multis, or micros, or whatever your chosen ski company calls them). Swiss retired Olympian Remo Fischer also joined us, and he had some of the newish Fischer fishscales. The other guy with only “normal” classic skis made them into hairies. For some reason, this didn’t occur to me.

(Klister cover did occur to me, but I just didn’t want to do it. Being a one-person wax testing crew is a pain in the ass. So I guess I brought this upon myself.)

Ugh... I made it to the finish. (Photo: Philippe Döbeli / SAS)

Ugh… I made it to the finish. (Photo: Philippe Döbeli / SAS)

I slapped on some VR60 and it seemed like it wouldn’t be so bad. I could ski up a few of the very gradual hills, so how rough could it be?

It was a mass start for the six of us, with me doing two laps for a 5 k and the guys doing three laps for a 7.5 k. On the hill out of the stadium already my skis were slipping all over… for the whole 5 k I had to herringbone up the hills. It seemed pretty miserable, and I was afraid the guys would lap me. But luckily I finished before them!

In the end, nobody’s skis really worked that great, but the zeroes were the best (the hairies were slow, the fishscales even slower). We were able to laugh about it in the stadium with the Campra timing crew; another SAS club leader was there to hand out the awards. We did a one-lap cool-down and ran inside out of the snow/rain.

I really love classic skiing, and I even like classic waxing. But I realized that it has been over one year, and maybe over two years, since I’ve classic skied when it’s below freezing, much less an extra blue day. Between the fact that I can’t ski during the week in Zürich and that most citizens’ races in Switzerland are skating, it has been a long time where all the classic skiing I do is stressful, difficult, slow. It was beginning to make me turn against classic skiing. But now that I’ve realized what the culprit is, I’ll just find an extra blue day, get out there, and fall in love again.

After a nap and prepping skate skis for the next day’s race, it was another great dinner and another chance to admire the awesome photos and get inspired. Tagliatelle al funghi is definitely the dish I would recommend should you ever find yourself in Campra.

I was exhausted – it had been a while since I had done a race as short of 5 k, and I had used my arms so much to try to muscle my slippery skis up the hills. They were sore in all sorts of places and I was pretty worried that for the 16 k skate on Sunday I would be tired and lagging.

But when I warmed up the next morning, it felt so great to be on skate skis and not on alternatingly draggy and slippy classic skis. The snow was fairly fast and the course was narrow – to make the most of their limited trail length, the organizers made a course that had several sections of two-way traffic where there was only the possibility of one lane in each direction. I knew it would be a fast and hard, and worked some speed into my warmup. I felt like I was absolutely flying compared to the day before, and it boosted my confidence.

The Swiss Loppet races are a bit crazy at the start, as I soon found out. Although we were given out bibs according to some logic (I was asked when I picked mine up whether I was “strong” and then given bib 5), there was only one start section and it was a free-for-all to set your skis out as soon as people began arriving to the venue. So those bibs were meaningless.

The start had been classic tracks, which I thought would mitigate the craziness somewhat, but then people started just putting their skis in between the classic tracks. There were kids and retirees in the first few rows of the mass start next to people like Remo Fischer. Luckily there were only 100 or so of us, less than in some years because there’s been so little skiing to be had in Switzerland.

The “gun” (not a gun) went off and it was briefly chaos, but things sorted themselves out fairly quickly. After about a kilometer I managed, with a guy ahead of me, to pass one racer who had been slowing us all up on the single-lane trails, and from then on I was always in packs which were going my pace.

After feeling like skiing was just so much trouble the day before, I had a fantastic time on Sunday! It was a really fun course, with a big climb that shifted constantly between steep and more gradual, and some long flat sections where you could really get cranking.

At the top of the big climb on each lap my legs were burning, but my skis were fast (and I can also carry momentum through transitions better than most of the guys I race around) so I was always able to re-catch my pack if I had lost them. I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face, fourth in the women’s field.

I did a cool-down with the guys and then another lap with my friend Jonas, because as always on Sundays I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get to ski until the next weekend, or perhaps not even until my next race. It turned out to be a good move as later it started snowing hard again. We’d done our skiing when it was good.

From our group, Marcel Ott had finished second overall, so we shouted and clapped at the prize ceremony. The race also doubled as the second competition of the U-Games, and while two more guys had showed up for the “big” race, I was still the only lady student so I picked up another medal.

My funny moment on the podium (photo: Fabian Birbaum)

My funny moment on the podium. (photo: Fabian Birbaum)

The four guy students... Marcel Ott (second from left) was second overall, and Fabian Birbaum (second from right) is the head of the nordic team at SAS. (Photo: Philippe Döbeli)

The four guy students… Marcel Ott (second from left) was second overall, and Fabian Birbaum (second from right) is the head of the nordic team at SAS. (Photo: Philippe Döbeli)

It’s true that there were very few students overall: three total one day and five total another day, partly because some were racing at the Continental Cup in Slovenia and some had exams. In some years there are many more people at the U-Games event. I might have just hit an anomaly in terms of low turnout.

And so in terms of probabilities, it could totally be chance that only one of those was a girl, me. But the numbers from the race tell another story. There were only 19 women in the whole thing, and 77 men. There’s just a lack of women in cross-country ski races, compared to comparable running races, for example.

That makes me sad. In terms of the U-Games, I would have loved to have more women there. I would have happily stepped further down the podium if it meant we had a full and robust ladies’ field. College skiing is so great in the U.S. in terms of getting huge numbers of skiers (men and women!) to continue their athletic careers, find enjoyment in sport, and make lasting friendships. In Europe there just isn’t anything comparable for our sport.

I shouldn’t win a medal just for making the trip to a race. There should be more to it than that.

That said, SAS is a very cool club with great people! Its purpose is in some ways totally different than a college team in the U.S., combining a varsity level and a club level program and incorporating a huge alumni element.

Some athletes race really seriously, getting Continental Cup and World Cup starts. Others are like the group I travel with, training pretty seriously but not full-time, and going to a variety of different types of races, some FIS races, some marathons (“popular races” as they are called in Europe) and other national and regional races. Others still just go to ski and find a nice social group; SAS organizes a variety of different kinds of activities throughout the year.

And a big part of the club is that once you’re a member (I’m not, at the moment), you’re a member for life. And so there are always older athletes kicking around to help those who are still in university, to provide friendship and also career networking. Philippe, the guy who came on Saturday to help hand out awards, comes from the alpine side of SAS but he raced on Sunday, which was totally awesome. This pretty much sums up the SAS atmosphere as far as I can tell, and it’s a great thing.

It was also great to be at Campra. The trails there are serious – they don’t host World Cups anymore, but do put on Continental Cups, so a number of American and Canadian skiers have seen the place. And for all its decades-old charm Campra itself is perfect. As I wrote to several friends this week, I don’t think it has lost out on anything by not trying to be shiny and sleek and new.

It’s still just Campra – and it was a fantastic place to spend the weekend.

A reminder of greatness before we leave...

A reminder of greatness before we leave…

... and to eat your breakfast in a room with a disco ball whenever possible.

… and to eat your breakfast in a room with a disco ball whenever possible.

what it’s like to be a ski reporter.

Finn Hagen Krogh was a thoughtful and fun interview despite already going through the television gauntlet. (Photo: Markus Schild/www.nordic-online.ch)

Finn Hagen Krogh was a thoughtful and fun interview despite already going through the television gauntlet. A reporter’s key tool: phone with voice recorder. If I try to take notes my shorthand is insufficient and I miss things, so I record interviews and then later listen to them and type out what the athlete said. (Photo: Markus Schild/nordic-online.ch)

Note: to see the writing and reporting I’m referring to, head to http://www.fasterskier.com.

Last weekend I headed to Lenzerheide, Switzerland, for the opening three stages of the Tour de Ski. It’s just an easy two hours on the train and bus from Zurich, and I found a great airbnb in town. They were my first races of the season reporting on-the-ground for FasterSkier and I have to admit I’m not sure I was totally prepared. The first day was a sprint, which is basically the most hectic race from a reporting perspective, so I had my work cut out for me.

The first step is, of course, watching the race. Usually it’s nice to be out on the course, but in a sprint that’s impractical. The race is so short that if you are out on a hill you can’t get back in time to catch the athletes at the finish line. So I just watched the qualifier from the mixed zone and caught some athletes as they went by.

What is the mixed zone? It’s basically a gauntlet that athletes have to walk through before they can go back to their team trailers and changing huts. Athletes walk on one side of the fence and media line up on the other side. The first boxes on “our” side of the fence are reserved for TV and video, outlets like Norway’s NRK and Sweden’s Expressen. There’s also radio. After interminable interviews, the athletes reach “us”: the written press. If they are tired of talking about their races already (understandable) sometimes they just blow past us. If they stop, depending on the athlete, it can be a total media scrum (looking at you, Norwegians; I’m usually one of the only people trying to talk to Americans and Canadians, so if someone has a good day and suddenly everyone wants to talk to them, it’s sort of a shock to have to fight for minutes). As one of the few women there and one of the smaller people in general, I’ve gotten elbowed in the face a few times. I’m trying to get better about asserting myself.

IMGP8252

With one of the other women journalists in the mixed zone.

In big events like World Championships and Olympics, the volunteers and officials are pretty militant about making athletes go through the mixed zone. At smaller World Cups this isn’t so much the case, so a few times athletes just grabbed their warm-ups from the bags that had been transported to the finish line and headed out for their cool-downs. I don’t blame them, but it meant that I had to hunt them down later at the wax trucks. I’m not technically supposed to go into the “team areas” (each different area of the venue has a separate accreditation category and normal journalists are only accredited for specifially media areas like the mixed zone and the press center) but in this case it worked out because the same lax attitude that let athletes skip the mixed zone allowed me to walk straight in where I should have been stopped.

Anyway… after the qualification I chatted with some athletes: Sophie Caldwell from the United States, who had a great qualification round, and the American and Canadian athletes who had missed the heats and were done for the day.

I ran back to the media center and quickly filed a short story about Sophie’s qualifier. There was less than an hour between when I finished talking to athletes and when the first quarterfinal started, so I worked quickly. I had also talked to Simi Hamilton about what pressure he was feeling after winning the race the last time a Tour de Ski stage came through, so I had to transcribe those two interviews, write the story, and list the results of all the North Americans in the qualifier. We quickly pulled a picture of Sophie from the qualifying round. I posted the story and ran back to the mixed zone just as the heats started.

Immediately, things were confusing. Sophie had a tough round and finished in fourth. She could move on as a lucky loser, but it depended on how the later quarterfinal heats went. If she was out I didn’t want to miss talking to her; but if she was in, she needed to be focusing on recovery. I also didn’t want to be insensitive or insulting by saying, “hey, if you don’t move on, can you come back?” Then it would sound like I was doubting her, and she was probably already not thrilled with how things had gone. I’m not sure what exactly I said as she walked by, but it was slightly awkward. Later, she ended up making it all the way to the final and I talked to her after that.

For most of the others, it was clear by the time they came through the mixed zone after a quarterfinal or semifinal heat whether they had made the next round or not. So I did more interviews. They usually take just two to five minutes. A hard thing is to keep watching the heat that is taking place, so you know what’s going on, while paying attention to the interview you are in the midst of conducting. Luckily, athletes usually want to watch their teammates, so I was able to watch some of the exciting heats on the big screen after all.

I made some poor choices in terms of clothing and got super cold while interviewing athletes. It had been sunny and warm and gorgeous, but the thing about the Alps is that the mountains are steep and once the sun goes behind them the temperature drops precipitously. I wasn’t prepared for this. Not for the first time, my iPhone was shaking as I held it out to record. U.S. sprinter Andy Newell took pity on me and gave me his parka, which was super nice of him. At first I didn’t want to take it because it was too awkward, but I was really cold and so eventually I did, and it helped immensely.

A few fun facts about this:

(1) The interaction happened at the end of my interview with Andy. Gerry Furseth had to transcribe this and he left it in the transcription, me saying, “Yeah, I’m fucking freezing!” I will try to be more professional in the future.

(2) Wearing a U.S. Ski Team parka led to one of the Swiss reporters asking if I was the U.S. press attaché and if I could get him a chat with Simi Hamilton. The U.S. does not have a press attaché at these events and I am definitely just a journalist, but Simi is nice and accessible so I just pointed the guy in his direction.

(3) Those parkas are SUPER WARM! If you are in the market for a super sweet parka, this is it.

After that, it was back to the media center. I didn’t take any photos of this media center, but here are a few I have from past World Cup trips. Here’s the one in Oslo before a biathlon competition, with the famous drummers lining up to enter the stadium. These tables are equipped with lots of outlets and by the time the race is over will be packed with journalists shoulder to shoulder (or computer to computer… with lots of paper start lists, camera equipment, and cups of coffee scattered everywhere).

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Oslo, 2014 Biathlon World Cup.

In Lenzerheide, there are few permanent buildings so the media center was less substantial – a big tent with a floor put down and heating inside. There were probably 50 or more of us working in there and it was perfectly pleasant and adequate. I started working immediately after grabbing a cup of coffee from the media center’s food table. That meant deciding how we would divide up our coverage – how many stories to write about each race, what the narrative is, what athletes’ quotes go in which story.

Soon, though, the press conference began. The podium finishers, once they are done with TV and print media in the mixed zone, come into the media center for a press conference run by the international federation (FIS for skiing or IBU for biathlon). It’s really handy that the press conference is held in the media center where we are already working because it means we’re much less likely to accidentally miss it!

(That said, FIS now doesn’t always do press conferences – specifically, not on the last day at each venue during the Tour de Ski, and sometimes in Davos they haven’t had them either. This is a huge pain in the butt for me. Of all the journalists, FasterSkier staff are probably responsible for talking to the most athletes – we check in with almost every North American in every race, and also need quotes from the podium finishers if they are not American or Canadian [which is most of the time]. Most others only talk to the top one or two finishers from their country in each race – we have two countries to cover, not to mention that most readers want to hear from each of their local heroes! It takes a long time to talk to all the North Americans and so sometimes we miss international athletes as they walk through the mixed zone at the same time. Knowing that the podium finishers will be in a press conference is huge, and I dislike it a lot when there’s not press conference.)

Oslo women's biathlon sprint press conference with race winner Darya Domracheva (center), Marie Dorin Habert (left) and Susan Dunklee (right) who had her first World Cup podium that day.

Oslo women’s biathlon sprint press conference in 2014 with race winner Darya Domracheva (center), Tora Berger (left) and Susan Dunklee (right) who had her first World Cup podium that day. Note the journalists watching and typing on their computers at the tables in front of me.

After the press conference, it’s back to work. On a sprint day everyone finishes at more or less the same time, so there’s one press conference and then the other. On a distance racing day, if the women go first, at this point there might be just an hour or 45 minutes before the men’s race. I usually try to really quickly write a story about the most important thing (to our readers) that happened – either running a story about a North American who did particularly well, or writing a recap of how the race played out at the front. It’s a sprint to get it done and frequently it needs proofreading by someone else as I run back outside, but it makes things so much easier later, when you have one more race under your belt and are even more tired, to know that one story is already out of the way.

Why does it matter psychologically to have one story already published? On a day where there is a women’s and a men’s race both (so, all days for regular skiing World Cups; most but not all days for biathlon World Cups; and only a few days at Championships and Olympics) we might produce four stories: one about the winners of the women’s race, one about the winners of the men’s race, and two more. That could either be a story about Americans and a story about Canadians, or a story about North American men and one about North American women. Four is a lot of stories.

In Lenzerheide I was really lucky because there was little else going on in the nordic world. No biathlon World Cups, no NorAms in Canada. Only on the last day, Sunday, did U.S. National Championships start. Usually our small staff is trying to cover both World Cup circuits and any domestic racing all at the same time. If I’m at a biathlon World Cup alone, that means that maybe I end up writing all four stories, start to finish, including taking the photos, sorting through them, doing and transcribing my own interviews, and then writing. I remember nights in Ruhpolding where I’d stay up until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. writing and then have to wake up and do it all over again. Some of those later stories are decidedly NOT GOOD.

Since nothing else was going on, though, I had a lot of help, both on the ground in terms of some volunteers and remotely. Alex Kochon, the head honcho for our FasterSkier reporting team, would help me go through the process of deciding what the stories should be and then took on one of them herself each day. We also had help from Jason Albert in Bend, who wrote one story each day. Jason and Gerry Furseth (a Canadian helper) were also total heroes and transcribed a lot of the interviews I did. Listening to your own interviews is bad enough (I hate the sound of my voice and some mannerisms I’ve unfortunately developed when interviewing), but transcribing someone else’s is ten times worse because you don’t know what was talked about. Since you don’t know what’s coming, you’re more likely to have to listen to the same section several times.

Thanks Jason and Gerry, and I hope you never have to listen to my stupid voice, bad interview questions, and awkward laughter again… but probably you will.

I also had a helper to sort through photos, which was huge. When you have hundreds or thousands of photos, picking out a few to go with your story and then cropping or editing it appropriately takes a surprising amount of time.

On the sprint day things took a long time and I didn’t leave the venue until after 8 p.m. I think that the grocery store was closed by the time I got back to the town of Lenzerheide, so it was good for my hunger levels that I had eaten a lot of snacks in the media center. Probably not so good for my health though as candy bars and hot chocolate have dubious nutritional value…. no regrets.

After reporting all day and, that first day, writing three stories of my own, I was exhausted. I had written more than 3,000 words, under time pressure, and tried to make sure they were good ones. It takes a lot out of you. Doing a race weekend or a long series like a Championships is like being in college and having a major take-home exam every single night. And it adds up. Over the course of two weeks at the Olympics in 2014, I wrote something like 55,000 words, or the length of The Wind In The Willows.

So exhaustion? That’s what reporting for FasterSkier is like.

Luckily, reporting can also be really fun. In the distance races on Saturday and Sunday I got out on the course to watch. Who doesn’t want to be here? Watching races still often gives me goosebumps and rushes of adrenaline at the finish. Being there in person is a total experience.

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Lenzerheide on the sprint day. Actually the distance day the weather was totally gross.

Being with buddies, I also took advantage of some things that I usually don’t – namely, events organized for the media. In this case it was a dinner organized at the Panoramarestaurant Rothorngipfel on Saturday night. We all took the gondola up; unfortunately it was sort of stormy and socked in that night so we did not get views from either the gondola or the restaurant, which is 2865 meters (9400 feet) high. But it was a really nice dinner and I got to meet some other media people as well as learning more about Lenzerheide from the organizers. That makes it sound like they forced us to listen to publicity, which is partly true, but I have really enjoyed skiing in Lenzerheide since I moved to Switzerland so I was actually very interested. They are aiming to host biathlon World Cups in the future and now have both a paved rollerski loop around their range and a snowmaking loop for early-season skiing. It will be interesting to see how things go in Lenzerheide, and I hope they succeed.

We soaked up the atmosphere. It was unique as usually I sleep on people’s couches and spend as little money as possible on these trips. We have a minuscule budget compared to major news outlets. Not a single FasterSkier employee makes their full living out of this work. To be able to keep more money as salary, we try to spend as little as possible when we are on the road. So to be a bit more high class was a treat. (To be clear, we did not pay for the dinner… thanks Lenzerheide folks!)

With Jojo Baldus (right), a Twin Cities skier who is volunteering with us this winter as he spends some time in Europe around the WorldLoppet races, and Kim Rodley of nordic-online.ch. (Photo: Markus Schindl)

With Jojo Baldus (right), a Twin Cities skier who is volunteering with us this winter as he spends some time in Europe around the WorldLoppet races, and Kim Rodley of nordic-online.ch. (Photo: Markus Schild)

The scene.

The scene.

It was fun to have JoJo Baldus around. He is in Europe on a gap year before college, aiming to ski all the WorldLoppet races. In between races, he’s helping out FasterSkier – very generously, as I made clear many times that we can’t really pay him! Luckily he seems to be having fun. He doesn’t have any reporting experience but is very enthusiastic and asks all the right questions. He tried to learn some interviewing techniques from me, but since I have zero formal training I don’t know how helpful I was. JoJo is also a great guy to hang out with, so it was a blast!

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JoJo listening in on an interview…. For blog aficionados, note the blue mittens in my hands.

I crammed in as many interviews as I could, publishing some on Monday when the Tour de Ski had a rest day. My theory is that when I am on the ground, I might as well take every five- or ten-minute chat that I can and somehow, we will turn it all into content.

But I have to say, even with all the help, it made me exhausted. The most fun trips are when we have a few reporters along, because the people who work with FasterSkier are fantastic, each and every one of them. My first trip was to Oslo World Championships in 2011 with Topher Sabot, Matt Voisin, and Nat Herz. It was so much fun! Then I went to biathlon World Championships in 2012 by myself. It was also fun, but a lot more work and with nobody to sympathize with. Trips to the Olympics in 2014 with Alex and Nat, and to skiing World Championships in 2015 with Alex and Lander, were highlights.

As I look towards this year’s biathlon World Championships in Oslo, I’m excited because, well, World Championships! Oslo! Biathlon! Fun! But I have to admit that I’m dreading doing all the work myself. There will be other racing going on, like the FIS Ski Tour Canada, so it won’t be like this Lenzerheide weekend where I could simply send interviews off to our other staff to transcribe, or expect some of the writing to get done by them as well.

Sometimes what gets me through is going skiing, and this was also true in Lenzerheide. Mostly we skied on a loop in town, but after the races finished on Sunday and volunteers took the stadium apart with amazing efficiency, we went out for a ski on the World Cup course. It was hard. But it was magical and fun. I love ripping downhills and World Cup courses deliver in ways that trails designed for tourists do not. I was pretty worked over by the time we had done a few laps though – the uphills are for real!

(In this case, the long uphill out of the stadium was great, really skiable, and would be fun to push in a race. The steep uphill out at the edge though, before the athletes zoomed down to lap through the stadium? Not so fun.)

It was a great weekend, but a lot of work. Now, time for me to be back at my “normal” job, doing science.

Interviewing Jessie Diggins.

Interviewing Jessie Diggins.

the Eastern Cup experience.

High school racing trips mean high school kids cooking. Read about the Ford Sayre kids' experience with skiing on the team's blog.

High school racing trips mean high school kids cooking. Read about the Ford Sayre kids’ experience with skiing on the team’s blog.

I started cross-country skiing in an organized way when I was 15, a sophomore in high school. Before that I had grown up skiing on fishscales, clomping around on the trails behind my grandfather’s house, which were groomed by a devoted local skier (Mike Smith, town hero!) and his snowmobile. We knew that skating existed and every once in a while my mother would try it for ten strides or so, but her skis were classic skis from before skating was even invented and so it wasn’t very practical. As for me, I lived in ignorance.

But in high school it became clear that my career as a basketball player wasn’t going anywhere. I joined the ski team because I had run cross-country and many of my friends skied. It seemed logical. Besides joining the high school team I also enrolled with the Ford Sayre club, a local program with a higher racing focus which practiced two times a week.

By the end of the year I entered my first regional races: the Eastern Cups in Hanover (on my home course at Oak Hill) and Holderness, New Hampshire. I finished last and second to last. Luckily things improved in subsequent seasons!

I raced many more Eastern Cups with Ford Sayre, then with Dartmouth, and then with the Craftsbury team after graduation. And after I stopped ski racing seriously, I kept going back to the first Eastern Cups of the season when I was home for Christmas to coach for Ford Sayre, my original club. At the first big races of the season things are always a little hectic so they are happy to have an extra helper on hand. Each year I get to check in with the kids who are coming up through the program, and it’s a blast.

Racing in Craftsbury at the Eastern Cup in 2013. (photo: Adam Glueck)

Racing in Craftsbury at the Eastern Cup in 2013. (photo: Adam Glueck)

(Sometimes I race, but this year with the 1 k manmade loop I didn’t feel the need to. Once you’re old, you can be a fair-weather racer, so to speak.)

This year I was particularly excited to go to the Eastern Cup because it was in Craftsbury, Vermont, on my old stomping grounds. With so little snow in Europe, I was excited to bring my skis home and go for long distance skis around my favorite Craftsbury trails – finally, some good training! My boyfriend was also coming to help coach, and he had never been to the Outdoor Center or that area of the Northeast Kingdom. I was doubly excited to show him the trails.

….. then I actually took a look at the snow situation in New England. Craftsbury did an amazing job pulling off races at all, especially since it rained two days before the races and reduced the snowpack on the manmade loop down about as low as it could go. But a kilometer was as much as they could muster. My boyfriend and I brought our running shoes and explored the trails that way. It was still fun.

What I love about Eastern Cups is that they have something for everyone – from top seniors vying for international race spots who treat the races as training tests, down to high school athletes jumping in their first regional races – and that the entire ski community of Eastern North America shows up. I could catch up with so many old friends in one place, and trade cards and Christmas presents too! I would have loved to go for a ski with my friends who are now coaching full time, but we stuck to chatting on the side of the trail given the conditions.

Ford Sayre coaches Scottie Eliassen (right) and Dennis Donahue under the wax tent in 2014.

Ford Sayre coaches Scottie Eliassen (right) and Dennis Donahue under the wax tent in 2014.

A ski race is a ski race is a ski race, and one of the things that has gotten me through my 2 1/2 years in Europe is that you can show up to ski anywhere and things are basically the same and people are friendly and nice. But the Eastern Cup is particularly familiar, whether it is Pavel Sotskov’s announcing or walking by tables full of food for various clubs and college teams where athletes, coaches, and parents all congregate post-race.

I also particularly enjoy going with Ford Sayre. Every year it’s a reminder of what I learned from the club about how to be an athlete. Before every race, each athlete has to come check in with the coaches to talk about two (no more, no less) specific objectives for the competition – be it a technique cue, something about pacing, a mental aspect, or just the process of the race from warm-up to cool-down.

At the end of the day, the athletes cook dinner and we all sit around a big table as a team. Each athlete says one thing that went well for them, and one thing that they want to improve on in the next race. Then the coaches do the same thing.

The club always has a good system of setting short- and long-term goals, and revisiting them when appropriate. It teaches athletes early in their careers to have purpose and to do things for a reason. That’s something that carries through to everything else you do in life – I regularly set goals for my academic life, some which I want to achieve in the next months and some which I want to achieve two or five years from now.

This year’s group was particularly awesome and respectful, and super fun to work with. It’s great to be hanging out in the house with kids who are so smart and have so much interesting to say! In a lot of years the only athletes in the club are from Hanover High School (so Hanover and Lyme, New Hampshire, and Norwich, Vermont, and sometimes surrounding towns). This year there are four high schools represented and a home-schooled athlete as well. That made things a lot more interesting, and it was amazing how well everyone got along on their first real race trip.

There’s also always the comedian of the group, and always one athlete who was quiet the first three years I showed up to coach but suddenly has become the group’s ringleader. People change so fast in high school, both athletically and on a personal level.

So my annual Eastern Cup trip is a reminder: sports are a good an essential things for kids to do. Encourage your family, friends, and neighbors to get their kids to do sports! As many as possible!

And coaching? That’s a pretty good, fun, and rewarding thing for grown-ups to do, too.

La Sgambeda, my first ski race of the year!

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Most people don’t decide that the first time they classic ski for the season should be during a long race. I can now confirm: this leads to pain. Much pain. My weekly yoga class on Tuesday? Extra rough this week.

I was tempted to do La Sgambeda after Holly Brooks raved about it last year. A ski marathon in Livigno, Italy, La Sgambeda last season served as the opener for both the Swix Ski Classics series and the FIS Marathon Cup; there was a skate race and a classic race, as well as the Ski Classics prologue, all zipping up and down a sunny valley just over the border from Switzerland.

How could you not want that?

This year things were a bit different. The FIS Worldloppet Cup doesn’t start until January in France, and the (now Visma, not Swix) Ski Classics moved the race one weekend earlier: a 35 k classic race in the first weekend of December.

I few people were less enthusiastic once the skate marathon option disappeared, but this fall I gathered some friends and finally looked for a place to stay.

I made sure to get on snow twice before the race… but both times were skating, and once was on an ungroomed path after the first “big” snowstorm around Zurich. Things were so messy and lumpy (plus it was after work in the dark) that it took us an hour and 15 minutes to go just 12.5 k, skating until we were completely exhausted. I’m not sure I’ve ever gone that slowly on skis in my life, much less when I’m skiing more or less at threshold. I mean, my Vasaloppet pace was faster than that, and the Vasaloppet was (a) classic and (b) a disaster. Technically, it was skiing, but in terms of anything you might call race prep I’m not sure it qualified.

Nevertheless I was super excited to race. I have never been a fantastic marathon skier and that certainly won’t change now, but I felt fit from the running and hiking I did all summer and fall. Classic skiing up a long valley and then pushing down the gentle downhill kilometers to the finish with a few hundred of my new closest friends sounded like oh so much fun.

There were hints that my dream might be a bit unreasonable. There has been very little snow in central Europe (or at least on the southern side of central Europe) and so I carefully watched the Livigno webcam to see what conditions were like. I stalked the #Livigno hashtag on Instagram. I asked people on twitter what the conditions were. People were skiing on a manmade loop, in shorts and sports bras.

Yet ten days before the race we got an email from race organizers saying that the race had been “secured”. 800 people from all around the world were already signed up, with more registrations coming in. La Sgambeda would happen. Hmmm.

Sure enough, the day after the registration deadline we got another email: the distance was cut to 24 k and would be loops around a 6 k manmade track. (After finishing, our watches told us it was more like 21.5 or 22 k.)

These are hardly my favorite ski conditions, but I tried to focus on the positives: it would be sunny and warm! We would eat Italian food! Most importantly, I vowed to not work at all over the weekend, except to file some short race reports. (It turned out that our internet didn’t work, so I couldn’t even do that. So relaxing!)

And so we departed for Livigno. Our crew: a motley bunch of scientists. Greg is a postdoc in ecology studying, more or less, carbon cycling and storage in forests. Jonas is a chemist working at a pharmaceutical company. Jonas is a much better skier than Greg and I. Between the three of us we had one complete wax box, which we considered a victory before the race even began.

I met Jonas at a train station partway to the border, and we drove into Livigno on Friday night. The town center is a strange combination of a pedestrian-only zone and hotels, so you have to try to navigate through the packed streets even though almost every one has a big sign saying only “authorized” traffic. After driving past street turn after street turn, feeling we weren’t allowed to go down them, we eventually decided that we were authorized and tried not to hit any Italian tourists. It was a challenge.

Our hotel included half board, so we stuffed ourselves with delightful Italian food for dinner. I think it was the first week they were open for the season; the waiters were still enthusiastic and friendly, making jokes and then smiling because they knew we liked their joke.

The next morning we slept sort of late – paradise! – and then walked over to the ski stadium to watch the Ski Classics Prologue. The organizers had kept the loop pretty flat, and everyone was double poling. Watching them cruise around the course made me even more excited to ski.

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After Greg arrived on the bus, we grabbed some lunch – the best 9€ pasta I’ve ever had – and then went back to the trails, this time with our own skis, to test klister.

The klister worked, but most of all I was just overjoyed to be skiing! It was my first classic ski of the year. Sometimes when you get on snow for the first time, it feels awkward – your skis are sliding around, you feel like this is totally different than rollerskiing, your shins immediately hurt from trying to balance.

I did not feel like this. I felt like I had been born to ski and that skiing on snow was the best thing ever, and totally natural.

The hard tracks in the 40°F sunshine might have had something to do with it too. It was glorious. I felt like singing. Luckily for my companions’ ears, I resisted this urge.

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We headed back to the hotel to prep skis and eat another big dinner. On Saturday night half-board apparently consisted of fondue. We skipped the cheese version and got meat fondue, which also is definitely not ideal race prep, but better than cheese, we hoped?

(Also, having come from Switzerland, it seemed a little ridiculous to order cheese fondue while we were out of the country on vacation…)

I had a really fun time racing the next day. So when I present the following shortcomings of the organization, put them in context. I’m thrilled that Livigno pulled off holding a race at all. But… there are a few things they could work on…

Because of the loop format, the organizers didn’t want the elite field to have to lap through the rest of us. I understand that. They started the women at 9:30, the men at 10:15, and the rest of us got to start at 11:30. The upside: we got to sleep late. The downside: the officials closed the course completely before our race.

Jonas and I tried to test out what to cover our klister with, during the women’s race. There were only 34 women in the elite field; they skied in packs, with large gaps in between. Minute-plus gaps. Even in the packs, they did not take up all four lanes of the course. Being responsible skiers, we looked around to make sure that we weren’t in the way, and then hopped in the outside track.

Two officials quickly converged on us and told us in Italian, and in no uncertain terms, to get out of there.

So the course was not open at all for the two hours before a classic race, during which time the air temperature warmed up 15 degrees and went from below freezing to above freezing. Since it was a manmade loop, there was nowhere besides the race course to ski.

I understand that circumstances were extenuating, but I was still pretty irked. We were definitely not going to get in anyone’s way. I guess my upbringing on the Eastern Cup circuit, where people manage to warm up despite races going on, biased me a bit.

I was more irked later, in my own race, when not only were people skating around the course for fun, but a few spectators or elite athletes were skating the wrong way on the course during the race. The point of the Ski Classics series is to make for great television and to have the world’s best athletes compete, but also to give normal people a good race experience so they can connect with the series – maybe focus on the same high organizational standards for the citizens’ race?

Competitions like the Birkebeiner and Vasaloppet show that this is definitely possible. It’s not the World Cup. It’s a different thing.

Once we got to the start, there was another shortsighted problem. Greg went to put his skis at the start line in his wave, and there was no room. The organizers had assigned people to waves, so they certainly knew how many people to expect, yet didn’t make the start pen big enough to fit all the people signed up. Really?

(There were things that the organizers did well, of course. There were feeds and free wax support on course, for example, and everyone was basically really nice. The course marshals cheered as we went by, although they did not yell at all the people who were blatantly skating. Their warm attitudes were impressive since they had probably spent all of their energy shoveling snow for the last several weeks!)

Of course, though, once the gun went off everything was fun. Some people went on skate skis but I was happy to have my klister cover as I strided up the first hill. There was plenty of chaos, with people falling and crashing and taking out others. I was in the first 200 people to go around the course, and already by the time I got to the first steep downhill it was completely snowplowed out.

The steep uphill afterwards, which was just two skiers wide? We had to take turns skiing down to it, and then stopping. The wait times were somewhere between 30 seconds and 2 minutes to get moving, depending on where you were in the field. If you didn’t want to simply walk on your skis, that was too bad because you had no choice.

All of that chaos had the effect of stringing out the field much more quickly than it would have if we could have stayed in bigger packs. So soon, I found myself skiing more or less alone around a long, pancake-flat loop of a field. This was definitely not what I had pictured, but at least I was out of danger in terms of broken poles.

Double poling isn’t really my strong point, though, and having not done it at all this year except on a short test ski the day before, I felt slow. My skis – fast on the downhills and solid on the uphills – were also dragging on the flats. I was working fairly hard, but going nowhere.

The fact that my skis were slow on the flats was nobody’s fault but my own: I quickly realized that I hadn’t accounted for how much weight I’ve gained since I first acquired my klister skis, and that they aren’t quite as stiff for me as they used to be…. less klister next time, oops! The upside of being a recreational skier is that when you mess up your skis, there are no real consequences except for spending a bit longer on the race course than you had planned.

The best thing to do seemed to be to just enjoy being out in the sun with a lot of other skiers. At one point I had a mini battle with a 60+ year old guy in a new German team suit. Every time I passed through the stadium, I laughed to myself about the Italian announcing, which made everything sound much more dramatic and exciting.

I was tired when I finished, and my arms and back were already stiffening up. But it was so beautiful and so warm that we went back out for a cool-down lap anyway. Living in Zürich (or in Jonas’s case Aarau) it wasn’t really clear when the next time we’d be on snow might be. So we reveled in the snow and sun and cheered for the racers who were still out on course.

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After re-packing the car, we grabbed some more delicious Italian food. The restaurant was busy but we explained to the waiter that we had just finished the race and were hungry. He understood.

And then we headed home. Greg and Jonas had never met before the weekend, but the three of us had gotten along perfectly and tried to plan what other races we might do together.

As for La Sgambeda? I probably won’t come back if it’s on a manmade loop again, but I do want to try the real thing with the trails heading up the valley. The Livigno landscape is beautiful and I’d like to go in the summer for hiking, too.

Stangest thing in the race bag: Glucosamine joint supplements. I mean, I know marathons have mostly master skiers, but do you think we’re that feeble!?

Biggest accomplishment: Jonas has never heard of using plastic wrap to wrap your klister skis if you don’t have time to clean them before tossing them in your ski bag to travel. I feel that by spreading this knowledge (and gifting him a box of plastic wrap) I have made the world a better (and less sticky) place.

Shopping haul: In the tax-free zone, I avoided the designer perfumes and fancy watches, and instead brought home some local Italian food products. So, friends, now you know what you’re getting for Christmas.

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I ♥ mittens, + my Adelboden-to-Kandersteg OD.

Atop Bunderchrinde Pass.

Atop Bunderchrinde Pass.

If you’re advertising something, you usually ask the best people in the world at using or doing that thing to endorse your product.

Therese Johaug is a famous Norwegian skier who started a glove company. She has used that platform to sponsor some of her competitors, which is pretty cool. There are some fantastic ads featuring Sophie Caldwell, Jessie Diggins, and Liz Stephen – some of the best skiers in the world, who happen to be from Vermont and Minnesota.

I am not one of the best skiers in the world. Yet, I would like to endorse Therese Johaug’s mittens. I consider myself to be a high-use mitten wearer. I have rigorously the product in a variety of punishing conditions. You don’t have to be an international star athlete to value good gloves – they are useful for lots of different jobs. And luckily, I have, like, a bunch of different jobs.

And so I present: how a pair of colorful mittens saved my bacon a whole bunch of times.

I acquired the bright blue, wool mittens in Norway in 2014. I was in the midst of my masters degree and took a whirlwind trip to race in the Birkebeiner and then cover biathlon World Cups in Oslo. As could describe most of the year spanning from October 2013 to October 2014, I was a shitshow. I got to Lillehammer and realized that I had only brought racing gloves, which would be totally inappropriate for covering World Cups in Oslo. Thin gloves are good for exercising, not so much for standing around.

The Birkebeiner was canceled on the morning of the race (maybe actually an okay development considering how horrifically out of shape I was), but the day before I had perused the famous expo when I picked up my bib. Besides buying some panic-wax, I picked up these mittens. I think they are actually a size too small for me, but I was smitten. It was mostly the color called out to me, but I was happy they were wool, too. I have little brand loyalty, in general, and most of my gloves (a) have holes in them and (b) are what I was given for free, are what were on sale, or are what people left at my house (looking at you, neon yellow Roeckl gloves).

In the end, even though I didn’t race I came away with something important. The mittens.

A few days later I arrived at Holmenkollen. Oslo can be lovely in March. Exhibit A:

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One morning early in the week I went for a ski with Susan, and it was fantastic. Sunny, warm, spring in Scandinavia. Heaven. Race gloves, not mittens.

However, Oslo in spring can also be terrible. Here’s a photo I took on my first FasterSkier reporting trip ever, in 2011 for World Championships. Exhibit B:

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Do you see the sky? It’s not blue. Oslo can get socked in with fog like you wouldn’t believe. At least it wasn’t actually raining that day.

The last two days of the 2013-2014 biathlon World Cup season, mostly, were like that, only it was raining. It was totally miserable. I didn’t take a single photo of the races because I don’t have a fancy cover to keep my camera, which costs as much as a month of (Zürich) rent and was a gift from my grandparents which I couldn’t replace, out of the wet.

Here’s the thing about reporting at a ski race: much like coaching, you’re mostly just standing there, possibly with intense bouts of sprinting from one part of the course to another in between. When you want to take notes or hit the “record” button on your phone or voice recorder, you have to take your gloves off. It’s unavoidable. And like most skiers, I have terrible circulation after years of exposing my hands to the cold.

One of the most embarrassing things that has happened to me while interviewing an athlete was when someone in Falun, after just finishing a race probably also in the sleet, offered me her jacket because I looked so cold and my hands were visibly shaking. When an exhausted athlete offers you the only things that are keeping them warm, you know you look pretty pathetic. (note to FasterSkier advertisers: who wants to sponsor us for hardshell jackets? please?)

So mittens are much better than gloves, because when you slide your hand back into your mitten all your fingers are together, warming each other up, in this case encased in wool and fleece. You warm back up faster.

Thank God for mittens.

Especially mittens which you can also fit handwarmers inside.

I went about the spring of 2014 working on writing science papers and preparing for my summer of fieldwork, which was to be done on Svalbard, an Arctic archipelago belonging to Norway.

Just how far north is Svalbard? Think of some northern cities. Fairbanks, Alaska, is at 64.8ºN. Östersund, which Sweden bills as its “northern sports city”, is at 63.2ºN. Trondheim, the northernmost Norwegian city you are likely to have heard of, sits at 63.4ºN, while Tromsø, the northernmost city you’ve probably heard of if you’ve actually spent time in Scandinavia, is at 69.7ºN.

Longyearbyen, the administrative center of Svalbard, is at 78.2ºN.

Think about that for a minute.

Much like Oslo, Svalbard can be strikingly beautiful when it is sunny out (and reminder, the sun never comes out in winter, so I’m talking summer here). Again, Exhibit A:

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More of the time, Svalbard looks like Exhibit B:

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Working in the valleys is freezing, even in July. The daily mean temperature is 5°C (about 40°F), just above freezing. You have to wear rubber boots to walk out to the field sites because the ground is completely saturated and marshy, as a result of the permafrost. You wear double layers of wool socks to try to counter the fact that rubber boots usually make your feet colder, not warmer. Worse, the wind rips its way up the valleys from the water. That water is, in case you missed it, the Arctic ocean. You wear five layers underneath your raincoat, and then pull the hood over your head.

In July.

I was happy to be in such a cool place, but my field assistant Helen and I realized that basically, we just weren’t going to have summer that year.

Surveying tundra plants means sitting as still as possible. The tundra is fragile and trampling can do major damage to plants, so you can’t step on the tundra in the plots you’re studying in. Instead, we would hang off of elaborate ladder-and-sawhorse contraptions and count the plants we saw at each point. The blood would rush to your head as you hang upside down. And up on the ladder you were even more exposed to the wind.

Helen at work.

Helen at work.

If you weren’t counting, then you were sitting there recording data on a clipboard. Also cold. And if you had a hat and your raincoat hood pulled up, sometimes you couldn’t hear the other person telling you numbers.

We’d switch back and forth on the tasks so we could warm up whatever parts of our body were coldest in a given job.

Did I mention, thank God for mittens?

Cerastium arcticum flower on a sunnier day.

Cerastium arcticum flower on a sunnier day.

Now that I’m doing fieldwork for my PhD in Switzerland, I still love mittens. I work in streams and this time of year, plunging your hands into the water to collect some dead leaves or live invertebrates is pretty chilly. Sometimes I let out a little shriek. I like putting my hands back somewhere warm afterwards.

Recently I took a hike from Adelboden to Kandersteg in the Bernese Alps. All summer I have been sticking to places more accessible from Zürich: cantons Glarus, Schwyz, the northern tip of Graubunden. I decided that before winter came, I would take one day where I sucked it up and spent the extra time on the train to get to somewhere new.

I picked this hike because it was in a super scenic region, and the bus and train connections weren’t so bad (about 3 hours from Zürich). The national hiking route Via Alpina leads through the area. There are so many places to possibly hike in Switzerland, sometimes you have to just put your finger on the map and pick something. I knew it would be beautiful.

This feeling was intensified when I got on the bus to Adelboden and saw that I was the only one under the age of 65. If Switzerland’s retired were headed here for a day trip with their rucksacks and hiking poles, it was probably pretty scenic.

A farmer shouted at me as I walked up through the outskirts of Adelboden. Hindsight is 20/20, so I’m pretty sure he was probably shouting that the pass was snowy and I looked totally unprepared. At the time I thought, “thick-accent-Swiss-German”, smiled, and waved.

After hiking up about 1,000 meters, or 3,000 feet, I crested a rise and saw this:

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It has been, shall we say, temperate in Zürich. But this was the north-facing side of a 3,000-meter (nearly 10,000 feet) mountain. Even though it was only early November, there’s snow to be had.

I had arrived in my trail running shoes, some ski spandex, and with a small backpack. I looked at the final climb to the pass – which is even steeper than the section I had just came up, nearly 60º, and covered in snow. I pictured slipping as I dug my foot into the snow, and sliding down the scree field. In classic idiot fashion, I had not told anyone where I was hiking, and I was alone. I had seen only one other man on the trail, and he had turned around long before.

But I had come this far! I estimated that the sketchy section would only take me 15 minutes of careful way finding, and pulled on Therese Johaug’s mittens.

That allowed me to use my hands as well as my feet to crawl my way through the white stuff. Sticking my hands in the snow would have sucked; I would have been way more likely to fall if  I hadn’t been confident that using my hands wouldn’t lead to several hours of frozen misery. Things were dicey at the top but I made it.

I was rewarded with incredible views from the top of Bunderchrinde pass. I sat and ate my lunch looking at Eiger, Jungfrau, and Mönch in the distance. My only company were the Swiss fighter jets training overhead.

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Click the panorama to enlarge.

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Days like these are when I’m thrilled to live in Switzerland.

And have a good pair of mittens.

People badmouth mittens, saying they look silly and don’t have functionality. I beg to differ. Mittens are da bomb.

And yes, it’s more or less a coincidence that I picked up those mittens. Would I have been happy with some other pair? Certainly. But thanks for the wool mittens, Therese. Keep making things in bright colors.